Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 65
Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

The wise don’t teach people to believe in words
But only to search for the true meaning.
When people are convinced by concepts,
Foolishness abounds.
When leaders are convinced by concepts,
Corruption, confusion, and conflict reign.
When instead they remain unconvinced and open,
Blessings and goodness spread.

Realizing the difference between understanding the words
And understanding the sense
Is a key to the Hidden Power of Goodness.
This power goes deep and reaches far.
It leads all things back to their own true nature.

Commentary

“Scepticism is as much the result of knowledge, as knowledge is of scepticism.”

Odysseus Ὀδυσσεύς c. 1100 BCE via Homer
(Ulysses)
Trickster lineage hero and symbol
from Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια

Themes: Karma

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“I didn't lie! I just created fiction with my mouth!”

Homer 850 BCE - ?
Primogenitor of Western culture

Themes: Lies

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“People with opinions just go around bothering one another.”

The Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth

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“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"

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“Learn the unshaken heart of persuasive truth. Don’t believe status quo opinions in which there is no truth at all.”

Parmenides 540 – 450 BCE via Shan Dao
Grandfather of Western philosophy
from On Nature

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“Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life.”

Protagoras 490 – 420 BCE
“The wisest man alive”—Socrates

Themes: God Belief

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“He who believes needs no explanation.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

Themes: Belief

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“Knowledge is not wisdom.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

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“To find yourself, think for yourself.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

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“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

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“Man is a being in search of meaning.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE

Themes: Meaningfulness

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“The more you know, the more you know you don't know.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Know Yourself

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“One who believes all of a book would be better off without books.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE
(Mengzi)
from Book of Mencius 孟子

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“When the knowledge of bows and arrows arose, the birds above were troubled… When the knowledge of argument and disputation multiplied, the people were confused.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE
(Zhuangzi)

Themes: Confusion

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“Every reason has a corresponding reason against it.”

Pyrrho 360 – 270 BCE

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“Nothing is certain, not even that.”

Arcesilaus Ἀρκεσίλαος 316 – 241 BCE

Themes: Doubt

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“Dark Virtue are so deep they can’t be fathomed, so distant they can’t be reached, and always do the opposite of others. They give to others, while others think only of themselves.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

Themes: Virtue

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“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

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“Merely to entertain doubts about saṃsāra will make it fall apart.”

Āryadeva འཕགས་པ་ལྷ། 3rd C. CE
(Kannadeva)
from Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas

Themes: Doubt

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“Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought.”

Jianzhi Sengcan 鑑智僧璨 529 – 606 CE
(Jiànzhì Sēngcàn)

Themes: Moral Freedom

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“Since no one really knows anything about God, those who think they do are really just troublemakers.”

Rabia Basri رابعة العدوية القيسية‎‎ 714 – 801 CE
(Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya)

Themes: God

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“Even your belief in deception is a lie.”

Thaganapa 11th C. CE

Themes: Lies

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“It is a fictional world distorted by the mind and the conviction of our society that it is the only reality is an enormous hurdle.”

Thaganapa 11th C. CE

Themes: Doubt

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“Man is wise only while in search of wisdom; when he imagines he has attained it, he is a fool.”

Solomon ibn Gabirol שלמה בן יהודה אבן גבירול 1021 – 1070 CE via Ascher
(Avicebron)
from Choice of Pearls

Themes: Wisdom Illusion

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“Those who speak of the regularities underlying phenomena only apprehend their crude traces.”

Shen Kuo 沈括 1031 – 1095 CE via Shan Dao
(Mengxi)
from Dream Pool Essays 梦溪笔谈

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“the first key to wisdom is assiduous and frequent questioning… for by doubting we come to inquiry, and by inquiring we arrive at truth”

Peter Abelard Pierre Abélard 1079 – 1142 CE
from Dialogue Between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian

Themes: Doubt Truth

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“If the believer understood the meaning of the saying 'the color of the water is the color of the receptacle', he would admit the validity of all beliefs and he would recognize God in every form and every object of faith.”

Ibn' Arabi Ibn 'Arabi 1165 – 1240 CE
“the foremost spiritual leader in Muslim history”

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“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی 1207 – 1283 CE
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
from Masnavi مثنوي معنوي‎‎) "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning”

Themes: Wu Wei

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“I tell you the truth, any object you have in your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

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“Prejudice and partisanship obscure the critical faculty and preclude critical investigation… lies are accepted and transmitted”

Ibn Khaldun أبو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي 1332 – 1406 CE

Themes: Deception

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“It is only certain that there is nothing certain.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE

Themes: Belief

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“Usually those who have limited understanding think they know more, and those who have no brains, think they know everything.”

Giordano Bruno 1548 – 1600 CE

Themes: Opinion Illusion

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“Begin with certainties and end in doubts; or begin with doubts and end in certainties.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE

Themes: Doubt

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“to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new.”

Galileo 1564 – 1642 CE

Themes: Curiosity

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“Begin philosophy by doubting everything.”

René Descartes 1596 – 1650 CE

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“All fools are fully convinced and everyone fully convinced is a fool.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

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“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Doubt

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“What is history? The lie that everyone agrees on…”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

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“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”

Thomas Jefferson 1743 – 1826 CE
from Notes on the State of Virginia

Themes: God Fear

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“He who thinks and thinks for himself, will always have a claim to thanks… If it is right, it will serve as a guide to direct; if wrong, as a beacon to warn.”

Jeremy Bentham 1748 – 1832 CE
from Principles of Morals and Legislation

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“Every true thinker for himself is so far like a monarch… He takes as little notice of authority as a monarch does of a command; nothing is valid unless he has himself authorized it.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

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“The good news is that the moment you decide that what you know is more important than what you have been taught to believe, you will have shifted gears… Success comes from within, not from without.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE

Themes: Success

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“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new… The head monkey in Paris puts on a traveler’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

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“He who knows most believes the least.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

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“It's not what you don't know that kills you, it's what you know for sure that ain't true.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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“The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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“The history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself a fool.”

Anatole France 1844 – 1924 CE
(Jacques Anatole Thibault)

Themes: Wisdom Humility

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“The teacher is the one who gets the most out of the lessons, and the true teacher is the learner.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

Themes: Education

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“All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.”

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats 1865 – 1939 CE

Themes: Belief Opinion

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“the demand for certainty is an intellectual vice”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

Themes: Doubt

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“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936 CE

Themes: Lies

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“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 CE

Themes: Deception Lies

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“Those who are too lazy and comfortable to think for themselves and be their own judges obey the laws. Others sense their own laws within them.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE

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“I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen.”

Martin Buber מרטין בובר‎‎ 1878 – 1965 CE

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“It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Will Rogers 1879 – 1935 CE

Themes: Lies Belief

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“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Doubt

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“Reason is the illusion of reality.”

Inayat Khan 1882 – 1927 CE

Themes: Reality

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“I say one thing, you write another, and those who read you understand still something else!”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Last Temptation of Christ

Themes: Lies

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“Free yourself from one passion to be dominated by another and nobler one. But is not that, too, a form of slavery? To sacrifice oneself to an idea, to a race, to God? Or does it mean that the higher the model, the longer the tether of our slavery?”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

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“Be confident, not certain.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Doubt

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“Tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: Belief

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“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE

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“The sovereignty of scriptures of all religions must come to an end if we want to have a united integrated modern India.”

B.R. Ambedkar 1891 – 1956 CE
(Babasaheb)

Themes: Religion

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“Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure.”

Reinhold Niebuhr 1892 – 1971 CE

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“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

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“To suppose that people can be saved by studying and giving assent to formulae is like supposing that one can get to Timbuctoo by poring over a map of Africa.

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

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“Intelligence comes into being when the brain discovers its fallibility.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
from Awakening of Intelligence

Themes: Doubt

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“The minute you choose to do what you really want to do, it's a different kind of life.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

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“Our conscious motivations, ideas, and beliefs are a blend of false information, biases, irrational passions, rationalizations, prejudices, in which morsels of truth swim around and give the reassurance albeit false, that the whole mixture is real and true.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
from The Sane Society

Themes: Know Yourself

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“He had taken seriously words which were without importance, and it made him very unhappy.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

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“the crucial difficulty with which we are confronted lies in the fact that the development of man’s intellectual capacities has far outstripped the development of his emotions. Man’s brain lives in the 20th century; the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

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“The jewel has facets and it is possible that many religions are moderately true.”

James Hilton 1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

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“Of all, one must doubt.

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

Themes: Doubt

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“The secret of Soto Zen is just two words: not always so”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

Themes: Impermanence

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“The story begins only when the book closes.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE

Themes: Books

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“Where faith is weak, there is an abundance of beliefs.”

Reb Zalman 1924 – 2014 CE
from Paradigm Shift

Themes: Doubt Belief

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“Only don’t know!”

Seungsahn 숭산행원대선사 1927 – 2004 CE
(Soen Sa Nim)

Themes: Doubt

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“I was never aware of any other option but to question everything.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –

Themes: Doubt

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“This is a mystical statement about government–and in our minds those two realms are worlds apart. I cannot make the leap between them. I can only ponder it.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Government

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“I don't believe anything, but I have many suspicions.”

Robert Anton Wilson 1932 – 2007 CE

Themes: Doubt

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“Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

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“The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun

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“Tell people there's an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.”

George Carlin 1937 – 2008 CE
One of the most influential social commentators of his time

Themes: Belief

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“What we have to deal with is the kind of psychological materialism in our heads. We are allowing ourselves to be fed ideas and concepts from outside in a way that never lets us really be free. It is inward materialism that we have to deal with first.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from The New Age

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“The more I see, the less I know for sure.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Wisdom

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“Opinions and beliefs can be helpful... as long as we don't believe them”

Shan Dao 山道 1948 CE –
from Tao Te Ching — The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words

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“The more we believe the words, the less we understand the sense”

Shan Dao 山道 1948 CE –

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“Seeing that nothing is solid or permanent, you begin to make yourself at home in the unknown.”

Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche ཛི་གར་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ། 1964 CE –

Themes: Impermanence

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“Belief grows ever ‘truer.’ The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming… The present presses the virtual past into its own service, to lend credence to its mythologies.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –

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“History is not, after all, what really happened (no one can know; it’s gone), but only what we believe happened.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Themes: History

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  1. Shan Dao
    Our phrase, “The Hidden Power of Goodness” is translated by Red Pine as “Dark Virtue,” by Le Guin as “Mysterious power,” by Wu as “Mystical Virtue,” by Cleary as “Hidden Virtue,” by Carus as “Spiritual, profound virtue.”